Monday, April 29, 2013

(Self)-Publish or Perish?

I've been thinking a lot lately about self-publishing.

Let me correct that.

I've been thinking a lot lately about NOT self-publishing.

Many of the people I follow or who follow me on Twitter are self-published.  Some are experiencing great success; others aren't.  For those who are, I could not be more thrilled.  For those who aren't, I could not be more hopeful.

But have I thought about self-publishing my own creative works?

Not for a second.

Lest you fear that this is going to turn into some kind of rant against self-publishing, rest assured, it's not.  I don't believe that self-published work is inherently or universally inferior to traditionally published work, nor do I believe that self-publishing is going to destroy traditional publishing or tear apart the fabric of the nation.  Truth be told, traditional publishing is far more likely to destroy itself than to be destroyed by some boogie-man.

No, for me, it's just a personal preference, based on my own sense of self.

For me, there are two major factors that determined my pursuit of traditional publication for my debut novel, Survival Colony Nine, and that will, unless something drastic changes, determine my course in the future as well.


As anyone who knows me will tell you, I'm not the world's most outgoing person.  I'm okay at presenting myself in public, but not so okay at selling myself.  I could probably get better.  In fact, I've been working on it, with (I think) some success.  By the time my book comes out in 2014, I expect to be even better.

But I'll never be as good as some people, people to whom it either comes more naturally or who are willing or able to work harder at it than I am.  In my case, I feel it's essential to have the support of other professionals whose business it is to sell authors and books.

Don't get me wrong.  I know that, these days, authors can't sit back and expect the publisher's promo machine to do everything (which is one reason I might end up employing the services of a publicist).  But for purely personal reasons, I know I'd feel totally at a loss if I were largely or solely responsible for marketing, advertising, and selling the fruits of my creative labor.


I started out in academic publishing, where no matter how good your manuscript may be, lots of other scholars and critics are going to weigh in on it before it sees the light of day.  I'm comfortable with that model; it makes sense to me as a teacher and writer.  I believe it's vitally important to have fellow readers--and, given my background, to me that means "expert readers"--making editorial judgments.  As with the promotional side of things, so with the writing side: I don't want to go it alone.

Now, of course, self-published authors don't have to go it alone.  There are beta readers, friends and fellow writers, editors for hire, and so forth.  All of these people can help the self-published author, if s/he so chooses, to improve her/his work.

But I know myself.  Much as I believe in the power of outside opinions, I know that my desire to get my book out there might overcome my good sense.  I know I might be inclined to cut corners: skip the beta readers, or ignore editorial advice, or simply be lazy with my own revisions.  I know I need someone to push me to make my writing as good as it can be--someone who simply will not publish my book if it's NOT as good as it can be.

Hence my decision to travel the traditional route.  I could, if I chose, ignore my beta readers.  But I can't ignore my agent and my editor.  If the former doesn't like my manuscript, it doesn't get subbed.  And if the latter doesn't like my manuscript, it doesn't get published.  So in my case, I feel I need the gate-keepers, the categorical imperatives that traditional publishing provides, to make sure I don't cut corners.

I don't want this to sound as if I see the traditional publishing system as a crutch for lazy writers, any more than I see the self-publishing system as a short-cut for poor writers.  Neither characterization is accurate.  My point is simply that each writer has to determine for herself or himself which route is best.

And this means, in the end, that each writer needs to know herself or himself, both strengths and weaknesses.  You can't let either success stories or horror stories decide for you.

If you do, you may never publish.  And your creative spark may very well perish.


  1. I'm like you right now. If I get published, I want to do so with a traditional publisher so I have the editing and publicity support. I work full-time and don't think I could do all the business aspects of self-publishing alone.

  2. Totally agree with you, Natalie. It's like at my job (college professor) when the marketing folks tell me I have to market my major, and I say, "Wait a second, aren't you the marketing folks?!?!?" I know authors need to self-promote, but it's nice to have some professional support! (P.S. I LOVE "Literary Rambles"--a big thank-you to you and Casey!)